Happy Ringo’s Birthday, everyone! Meanwhile…
Last night, as I sometimes tend to do, I was noodling through cars for sale on Ebay and various other online locations. I’ve made no secret of my love for convertibles, so that’s usually what I gawk at when I do this sort of thing. Although Mrs. M’s ride is now paid off, leaving us without a car payment for the first time in many years, my current browsing is chiefly speculative — the drum hauler still runs (he said, knocking wood).
And that’s probably just as well, as one of the vehicles to catch my attention was a 1929 Packard Dual Cowl Phaeton, for which the bidding starts at nearly half what wee paid for the Mid-Century Mondohaus. On a lark, I posted it on the Book of Faces, and a friend of mine told me I should look at Teslas instead — he happens to drive one.
Now my friend is a really good guy — we’ve been friends since I moved to Kentucky in eighth grade, and lives a life that most folks would envy, residing in Key West with his lovely wife. And from a rational perspective, I’m sure he’d be right (granted, of course, that I can’t afford any of these cars in any case). But his post reminded me of one of my odd internal contradictions.
In many respects, I’m a pretty cynical person. I’ve been mugged by life enough times and read enough history to regard much of both as opportunities for bitter laughter. My sense of humor has always been dark enough to lapse into the ultraviolet, which shows in a lot of my fiction, for example. (Stephen King has said that he finds most of his story ideas to be hilarious. I get it.) This attitude shows in my political views and general curmudgeonliness as well.
It’s not so much that I think people are lousy — although some are, and I sure as hell don’t trust them in groups, and never have; I got nervous at school pep rallies, even when I was on the football team that was ostensibly being feted. It’s that my own position on people tends toward Calvin’s Total Depravity — in a fallen world, neither we nor our actions can ever be as good as we want them to be. I go through life constantly aware that Utopia means “No Place,” and that nearly every solution is simply the creation of a new problem that will likely be worse.
But at the same time, I crave the Romantic. I occasionally envy the Mad Dog’s insouciance and the faith he has in human endeavors, or the belief (whether expressed by Blake, Wordsworth, or Joni Mitchell) that we can one day “get ourselves back to the Garden.” I believe that art and literature and music have value beyond price tags, that we are creatures of spirit as well as matter, and that joy and exaltation are essential (if infrequent) parts of what life should be.
I try to balance this in my own life through my faith, occasionally joking that it allows me to accept the wrongness of the world-as-it-is because I’m playing the longest of long games. Likewise, I try to live as a good person (knowing full well that I’ll ultimately be less successful than I like), even if there isn’t much profit in it, because I think I should, and honestly, because I usually like doing the right thing.
And this balance shows up in other ways — balancing my inner editor against whoever calls my stories to the surface, playing music that almost no one cares about as passionately as I can. . . and daydreaming about cars that are not supreme triumphs of automotive excellence, but that look as though they’d be fun to inhabit. God knows that my fondness for 1960s and 70s convertibles (even the ones that I can fit in) isn’t based on their reliability or creature comforts, or even their superior performance, really. It’s based on how they feel to me — or more specifically, how I think they would feel to me, the spirit that imagining myself in one inspires in me.
I’d never be able to haul drums in a Karmann Ghia (or the Fiat 124 Spiders I was looking at this afternoon). But the person I’d usually like to be? Oh, he’ll fit, no matter the headroom, so my friend is welcome to his Tesla. My eyes and daydreams are elsewhere.
One of my favorite online presences is James Lileks, and for years I’ve enjoyed his work whether he was commenting on the current scene or poking good-natured fun at a mind-boggling range of American popular culture.
I’ve known for years that he wrote fiction as well, but had never gotten around to reading it. I corrected that lapse this week, buying his three novels for my Kindle. All three are serviceable mystery plots, but unsurprisingly, their real strength lies in the world-building Lileks does, even when his world is only a few years removed from mine (and perhaps from yours.) He creates — indeed, inhabits — Minneapolis in the early 80s, late 40s, or late 2000s convincingly. I recognize the people who populate the stories, whether as people I’ve known or as types from the stock companies of fiction, and Lileks renders them engagingly.
Insofar as the books have drawbacks, it seems as if the author (or his narrative voice — first- or close-third person) occasionally tries too hard to be clever, and on other occasions he lets his research into period slang and the like a little too far into the spotlight, again resulting in too much of a muchness. But he hits far more often than he misses, and I can usually find at least a chuckle per page. I still have a way to go on Falling Up the Stairs, but at this point, I feel comfortable recommending all three of the books for fans of crime with screwball elements.
And speaking of crime writing, you may recall my occasional mentions of Steve Lauden (who writes as S.W. Lauden.) He’s another crime-writing drummer, and we were on the same panel at B’con last year. He also was kind enough to interview me some time back, so we already know his taste is impeccable, right? Seriously, I’ve enjoyed his fictive work, and now I’m happy to report that he does cool musical stuff as well.
“Carolanne” is the debut single from his new group, The Brothers Steve. It’s a tasty bit of power pop, and if you dig it, you can check them out (and order the forthcoming album) here.
Seems like it would make good top-down music, huh? And back we go…
See you soon!